In the days of my youth, whether I was dazed and confused, going to California, or rambling on over the hills and far away, Led Zeppelin’s mystical riff-based hard rock provided the soundtrack. But I never got to see them perform live, not surprising considering I was only 10 years old when they broke up after drummer John Bonham’s premature death.
OK, I did enter the ticket lottery for the one-off concert by the surviving members in 2007 in tribute to the late Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun, but so did 20 million other people. My name didn’t come up.
The surviving members of Led Zeppelin have done various albums and projects since the breakup, one of the more interesting of which is Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, named after the band he and Bonham were in before Led Zeppelin formed.
Plant and the present-day lineup of the band paid a visit to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Monday night, treating the audience to an evening of rootsy interpretations of songs from the Zeppelin catalog and beyond. While no doubt a very different experience from seeing Zep in their prime, it was still, well, a joy to behold.
Plant and the Band of Joy kicked off with the Led Zeppelin classic “Black Dog,” sans the famous guitar riff but with a cool swampy vibe. It was clear from this opener that Plant and the band had no intention of trying to recapture the Led Zep sound, which is consistent with his ongoing reluctance to tour with the surviving Led Zep members despite off-the-charts demand.
Other radically reinterpreted Led Zep songs were the countrified pedal steel-powered “All My Love,” Physical Graffiti’s “Black Country Woman” and “Houses of the Holy,” and show highlights “Ramble On” (including a Middle Eastern-inspired banjo solo) and the multivoiced “Gallows Pole.”
Not surprisingly, the concert drew heavily on the tracks from the recent Band of Joy album (“so discretely suggested” by the huge banner with the album artwork behind the band), which has the same personnel as the live band — Nashville guitarist Buddy Miller (recently in town for Jeff Bridges’ Sings Like Hell concert), multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott on mandolin, banjo and lap steel guitar, recent Grammy-winner Patty Griffin on supporting vocals and acoustic stringed instruments, Byron House on bass of both guitar and stand-up varieties, and drummer Marco Giovino. All except Giovino joined in on background vocals.
Indeed, there were album-faithful versions of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance,” Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards,” the traditional “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way, and the especially effective atmospheric “Monkey” originally done by Low.
There were also some nice post-Zep songs by Plant, namely “Down to the Sea,” the smooth “In the Mood,” which included a verse of Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” and “Please Read the Letter.”
Three of the band members also got their chances in the spotlight. Miller sang “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” accompanied by bluesy harmonica from Plant, Scott sang the decades-old country song “A Satisfied Mind” and Griffin soulfully covered Big Maybelle’s equally old “Ocean of Tears.”
Plant was in good spirits, joking early on about the strong wind and cracking up when he and Griffin quickly aborted “Your Long Journey” before closing with “And We Bid You Goodnight,” a song commonly associated with the Grateful Dead. His voice has held up quite well, as have his trademark golden locks.
The evening started with a smokin’ blues rock set by the North Mississippi Allstars, or at least two of them, namely brothers Luther (guitar, vocals) and Cody (drums, guitar) Dickinson. Bassist Chris Chew was not there, but the brothers managed to pull it off as a duo. Luther switched between various guitars, including a two-stringer with a coffee can body, and a cigar box guitar accompanied by washboard with a cool flanging effect played by Cody. In keeping with the cover-heavy main act, their set included Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and a distorted slide guitar take on “Amazing Grace.”
Black Dog (Led Zeppelin)
Down to the Sea (Robert Plant)
Angel Dance (Los Lobos)
Black Country Woman (Led Zeppelin)
House of Cards (Richard Thompson)
Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go (Buddy Miller)
All My Love (Led Zeppelin)
A Satisfied Mind (Porter Wagoner)
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Traditional)
Ocean of Tears (Big Maybelle)
In the Mood (Robert Plant)
Come All Ye (Fairport Convention)
Please Read the Letter (Jimmy Page and Robert Plant)
Houses of the Holy (Led Zeppelin)
Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)
Harm’s Swift Way (Townes Van Zandt)
Gallows Pole (Led Zeppelin)
And We Bid You Goodnight (Grateful Dead)
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.